Last week, I wrote to Hon. David M. Walker (the former United States Comptroller General ((1998-2008)) seeking an update from him on the state of the union and his intended plans. In our previous phone call and email exchanges over the past year, Dave expressed an interest to leave Connecticut for “somewhere warm”, if the president and Congress couldn’t come together to pass new legislation, by 2015, that rewrote the rules on how just three social programs operate (Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security), which makes up nearly 50% of our current federal budget. (They’re not even talking about it.) This percentage will only grow larger as more and more Baby-boomers leave the workforce for retirement and begin drawing their monthly Social Security check and start using Medicare, with every passing day.
David was appointed by three different U.S. Presidents (Reagan, Bush (41) and Clinton) and he was unanimously approved by Congress, each time. In 1998, President Clinton appointed him to the position of United States Comptroller General, which he held for almost ten years. In 2003, David brought to America’s attention the government’s impending financial crisis. I began following his work after he was featured on CBS’ 60 Minutes to discuss this issue (2007). In 2008, Walker was recruited away from the federal government to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation to carry out his work by Peterson, himself. In 2010, Dave left and started his own think tank, the America Comeback Initiative, which he shut down, last fall, after several bus tours and giving hundreds of speeches. He has received both national and international honors for his work. As I consider building a raft for my long journey south, Dave told me that our country still has time to turn itself around. I’m not so sure that I agree as you’ll see in my latest essay, America’s ruins.
I was quite surprised when Dave informed me of his new plans to run as a candidate for Lt. Governor of Connecticut, his adopted state. With Washington in grind-lock, he believes that states will have to apply pressure on the federal government to create change. I’m not one to support politicians or their parties, but I do appreciate and support the work that Dave has already done for this country when he could have just as easily stuck his head in the sand like so many do, in Washington, to keep earning a paycheck. He chose to speak up and beat his drum for a past decade when so many with real political power have done absolutely nothing out of shear convenience. I can relate to his desire to take a risk in an effort to solve a very serious problem. For that, he has my endorsement for Lt. Governor.
I did challenge him on his decision to align himself with a political party (Republican) given its national reputation, its brand and some of its toxic personalities and positions. With his solid standing in Washington, I asked why didn’t he just run as an Independent and live and die on his own reputation. He said Connecticut is heavily Democrat. If you’re interesting in learning more about Dave Walker and/or supporting his campaign, please check out his website: www.WalkerforCT.com.
I recently spoke with Mark Skousen, economist, college professor, editor, founder and producer of FreedomFest. The dates for year’s event will be July 9-12, at Planet Hollywood, in Las Vegas, NV. It’s billed as “the world’s largest gathering of free minds” and Mark anticipates a sellout crowd of 3,000. This year’s theme is, “Is Big Brother Here?” (Check out the two minute trailer on the website’s front page at www.freedomfest.com (and then scroll down)). This year’s keynote speakers include CEO Steve Forbes of Forbes, Inc., CEO John Mackey of Whole Foods Market, historian H. W. Brands, humorous P. J. O’Rourke, science fiction writer, futurist David Brin… I’m looking forward to it. It should be a lot of fun. Early bird special ($100 off per person) ends March 15.
Dave Walker’s bio, http://www.walkerforct.com/bio.html
See attachment: David and Goliath
Note: The following story was originally the opening of my introduction; it wasn’t intended to be the actual commentary. It was written to share an ongoing family matter that I’ve been dealing with. Maybe you can relate. Hopefully, putting sunlight on this issue will lead to a satisfactory conclusion in a timely manner. Unhappy with my finished essay on America, I thought this six-page story, David and Goliath, was good enough to stand on its own. I hope you’ll agree.
January 20, 2014
David and Goliath
Much of what we consider valuable in our world arises out of (these) one-sided conflicts. Because the act of facing overwhelming odds, produces greatness and beauty.
– Malcolm Gladwell, author of
David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants
Last fall, I mentioned having plans to travel to the country of Panama on a reconnaissance mission, after the first of the year, as a possible safe haven from my homeland (the U.S.) that I see quickly falling into state of decline. However, I soon began having misgivings, with each passing day, at the thought of traveling abroad, with my financial affairs being in disarray. I have some unfinished family business that’s quickly risen to the forefront of my mind as a top priority that needs to be resolved before I go anywhere. The thought of having to confront this four-year-old issue head-on has produced a lot of dread inside of me, for many months, and it has required me to summon up every bit of courage and strength to stand up to a very difficult family member, an outright bully, but a true coward who stands between me and my inheritance.
I’m an heir, known in Louisiana as a “naked owner” to a trust established by my late-paternal grandfather, in the 1980’s, for my grandmother’s use until her death (2010). My uncle (the other naked owner) is an attorney who lives in Shreveport, LA, and he was appointed to serve as the trust’s executor. Growing up my uncle was always viewed as “the favorite son” over my late-father. (He marched to the beat of my grandfather when my father didn’t.) Upon my father’s death (1998), I stood to inherit his share (50%) of the trust remaining assets under French law (where assets pass from father to son to stay in the family) because he died without a will.
Following the death of their mother (my paternal grandmother), Jimmy, my 70-year-old uncle, called me that summer (2010) stating that he would begin working on the estate, which includes a lot of AT&T stock, my grandparent’s 3 bedroom/2 bath house and some cash. As estates go, I’m told that this one is pretty straight-forward. I figured I would give him a solid year to get all the stock sorted out, which had been purchased over the course of my grandfather’s forty-year career as an employee with the phone company. I’ve been told that it generally takes two to three years to settle an estate.
Jimmy’s 2010 promise to me remains largely empty, none of the stock has been reissued into my name and the estate hasn’t been settled. This is consistent with his past behavior in handling my father’s estate on behalf of my family, in 2001, which still hasn’t been completed. For the past three or four years, I’ve been drawing money out of the trust to subsidize my monthly disability check, which demonstrates that my uncle knows in his own mind that I have a legitimate claim to the assets even if the paperwork for my father’s estate and the trust hasn’t been completed and filed at the local courthouse in the state of Louisiana. I’ve never seen the first monthly, quarterly or an annual report on the value of the trust’s assets, as you’ve come to expect with all your bank and investment accounts. He could be stealing from me.
Three or four years ago, Jimmy rarely took my phone calls at his office when I was desperately seeking a much smaller monthly check. Sometimes, I would have to call two or three times before he would even bother to return any of my calls. By day three and having gotten no response, I would often give his wife a call and get her involved. Jimmy and I never once discussed my actual financial needs or what was available in the trust or any tax implications I might have. He sent me a dollar amount as he saw fit while I was struggling just to get by. I wanted to believe that he cared for me, his nephew, but with time that proved not to be the case. The lack of transparency bothered me greatly, but apparently it didn’t bother him, a licensed attorney, at all. Whatever fiduciary or legal obligations he has to me as the trust’s executor, he has ignored. Over the years, he has volunteered very little information on his own except to make more promises. Only those with a trained ear and a good memory can pick up on the inconsistencies to know when he’s telling a lie. Recently, I caught him, again.
Jimmy thinks he’s smarter than everyone else and as I can personally attest that he’ll sell you “up river” in a minute, if only for the sake of personal pleasure or maybe so he can claim all the inheritance. He’s dangerous, pompous, out of touch and I don’t trust him. He’s also lazy and sloppy. If he has to respect you because of your place in society then he will, but if he perceives you as having little or no standing or living out of town, such as, a nephew with a mental illness then you better watch out. He’ll step on your throat while showing no remorse. I would argue that he’s a sociopath.
My side of the family has long distrusted him based on his previous conduct in family matters involving my late-father, a troubled Vietnam Vet, dating back to 1990 and we’ve since gotten reports from friends whose real estate dealings involving Jimmy matched our own experience and reconfirmed our opinion of him. I suspect he’s screwed over a lot people, as a lawyer, over the years. Straight out of law school, as a court-appointed attorney, he represented four criminal defendants resulting in their convictions and all having to do jail time, which he proudly admitted to, in 2012. To hear him brag about his poor criminal defense record was very disturbing, but that’s the type of guy he is. He probably thought they were all guilty and therefore they deserved whatever sentences the criminal justice system gave them. He’s very judgmental in a cruel way. You definitely wouldn’t want him to be your prosecutor, judge or even your attorney.
He lacks empathy for others, but he can cry at the drop of a hat. I’ve seen it and heard it. Most interesting is the fact that Jimmy’s first wife, and the mother of his two grown children, was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in her twenties. She had to have major surgery upon getting her diagnosis. Carolyn suffered terribly from the illness and the treatments over the next 25 years, which included weekly dialysis until she succumbed to the disease, in the 1990’s. Without the daily intervention of the grandparents, their neighbors, church friends, Jimmy would have never been able to establish a law practice, of any size. One might expect this situation to have softened him up, but surprisingly it didn’t. Somewhere along the way, he lost his humanity. I don’t think he’s all that unique in this respect. I find it to be a surprisingly common, in America. That’s one reason I want out. As a late-bloomer in life and having a poorly understood illness with a huge stigma, I’ve been kicked many times by people and the system.
In 2002, I got married and Jimmy was the only family member not invited to the wedding. The decision was an uncomfortable one to make because it bucks tradition, but given his history toward my family I felt like it was warranted. I told his daughter and her husband, in advance, that her father and his second wife weren’t invited. Being considerate of my cousin’s feelings, I thought she deserved to know this information beforehand as not to get blindsided at the wedding.
Jimmy is a very “religious” man who’s wound very tight. He’s a workaholic who was raised Southern Baptist. He probably hasn’t ever missed a Sunday morning service in his entire life and he has always served in a leadership position. He thinks he’s going to heaven upon his death, but I’m pretty sure that he’s going somewhere else. I believe he lives a poor quality of life and he assumes that everyone else should believe and live as he does. He’s always complaining to me, over the phone, about how his clients show up at his office while always emphasizing “without an appointment”. That sounds like a good problem to have. He’s disturbed.
As an officer of the court who knows Louisiana law (Napoleonic Code) and how the legal system works while living two states (an eight-hour car ride) away from me, he has many built-in advantages over me. It’s all too easy to feel like a victim, to feel outgunned in these types of situations, to accept one’s powerlessness over the perpetrator or tormentor and one’s fate. How does one trade-in a crappy poker hand for some better cards? How does one go from a position of weakness to a position of strength to take on Goliath? Can you make one move and “checkmate” your adversary or will it be a case of trial and error until you see an opportunity for victory and strike? Approach the problem the correct way and you can learn the lesson, both, in victory and in defeat. Handle the problem in any other fashion and you lose while having to repeat the lesson again.
Writing, emailing and asking for help have become very important tools for me in solving personal problems that lead to favorable outcomes. I don’t always win, but I do come away with the satisfaction of making a valiant effort, learning and growing from each crisis. Like Newton’s Laws, simply pushing or leaning on a problem can stop it or be enough force to change its orbit, which can make all the difference. Overcoming big problems, like scaling mountains help us to realize our own untapped sources of strength. I’ve come to see the value of taking a private affair and making it public, when I have nothing to lose and everything to gain, as I’m doing with this problem. In this case, I’ve already complained twice to the Louisiana Attorney General’s office and the state bar to what I perceive is Jimmy’s unethical, if not outright criminal behavior towards me. In response to these emails, Jimmy has repeatedly told me that I would get “all my money” with nothing to show for it as the heat of the moment dissipates and the months pass by. These reassurances by a lawyer, with no supporting evidence, to a relative troubles me. He seems to conveniently forget about our new agreements as fast as they’re made never mentioning them again while I never forget.
His failure to transfer a significant portion of stock into my name as promised, by the end of 2012, finally forced me out of my comfort zone and to take more action – to seek out and hire a Louisiana attorney, to represent me, to get a copy of the trust, to find out the asset’s values, to determine what I’m due and get my share of the trust transferred into my possession. This isn’t fun having to sue a family member to get them to do what their parents would naturally expect of them, if they were still alive. My late father was two years younger than Jimmy and they were complete opposites. My father would be crushed to know that his brother is behaving this way. I’m not alone in this situation after talking to others. Money, wealth within the family can be used as a weapon against other family members. My primary fear centers on Jimmy cutting me off from the monthly checks, which I depend on as retribution while this matter gets litigated. It would be crippling for me.
Finding an attorney that can handle this type of case in my hometown or anywhere in Alabama is relatively easy given that I’ve come to know my fair share over the years. Quite a few are in this audience. When the first four months, of 2013, passed without the first stock certificate being mailed to me, I reluctantly performed a web search for a Louisiana lawyer, specializing in trusts where I came across a white paper on the subject written by a New Orleans attorney named, Charles. I was already mad at my uncle, the state and I felt like the legal system was letting him play his little game, at my expense. I was looking for some understanding from a lawyer. I told Charles my story. Soon into our phone conversations, Charles began demanding to be paid a retainer upfront before doing any work, which only complicated my situation all the more because any and all legal fees were going to be paid out of the trust. I have no disposable income.
My monthly inheritance checks cover the other half of my cost of living. I didn’t want to ask for more money only to be asked why, by Jimmy. Charles wasn’t willing to work with me, by allowing me more flexible terms, and that only put more pressure on me. Charles kept arguing that he would need money to travel to Shreveport and that I didn’t have it. I didn’t understand why he couldn’t start by writing a letter or making a phone call to my uncle. I was already feeling squeezed by Jimmy’s behavior now I was getting squeezed by another lawyer. I wasn’t happy. By July 2013, Charles and I agreed to part ways, which put me back in the market for another Louisiana lawyer.
Over the years, a phone call with Jimmy could last a grand total of a few seconds, if he had no interest in talking with me by using the excuse of having to prepare for a meeting with a client in the next few minutes. Sitting on tens of thousands of dollars or even hundreds of thousands of dollars of my money, I was treated like an unworthy, indigent client. Instead of getting the best service from a relative, I was getting some of the worst. He’s been in my audience for five or six years and he has never shown any interest in my writing. He’s never once complimented me in spite paying my blog numerous visits over the years. I think he prefers to see me and my ideas as being “crazy”; at least, that’s what he tells everyone behind my back. Last fall (2013), he agreed to get the stock reissued in our respective names, which he had failed to do back in the fall of 2012.
I began expressing an interest to travel to Panama, suddenly Jimmy and I began having half hour or longer phone conversations, twice a week, about the state of America, about Louisiana and Washington politics while always giving me his support expressing a willingness to send me whatever money I needed for my trip. Suddenly, he became really interested in my opinion on various matters. As the weeks past, I finally raised the problem of not having a credit card to take on my trip and my growing reluctance to go. His suggestion triggered a red flag in my mind and confirmed to me that he wasn’t working on getting the stock transferred when he suggested “what if we transfer enough stock in my name so I could deposit it into my bank account and then I could apply for a credit card”. You wouldn’t make that comment if you were already working solving the problem. I don’t think he was. I believe that was the last time we spoke, in November.
Though another web search, I got referred to an estate and tax attorney, out of Baton Rouge, whose law firm is in merger talks with a law firm, in Shreveport. This sounded promising and he sounded interested in my case. However, Carey kept asking me for a copy of the trust, which was something else that Jimmy had never volunteered to share with me, before he would accept my case. This issue kept coming up in every phone call with Carey as he wanted proof that I had a legitimate claim to the trust. Only after producing a letter with the letterhead of Jimmy’s firm printed on it, which was addressed to me with the trust being the subject matter and a brief note that Jimmy always included with each check was my new lawyer, Carey, willing to accept my case.
In early-December, Carey was finally willing to write Jimmy a letter seeking a copy of the trust and a list of all the assets, which I was in full support of. What I didn’t give any thought to was how my uncle would likely respond to Carey’s letter. I underestimated Jimmy. I figured, being a lawyer, he would simply comply with my attorney’s request, but that’s not what happened. What followed wasn’t a reply by letter with the requested information enclosed, but instead Jimmy picked up his telephone and called my new lawyer, Carey, where my uncle raised a whole bunch of personal issues about my bipolar disorder, my past arrest and my “crazy” plans to go to Panama while minimizing the value of my share of the trust. All of this was immaterial, but it led to an hour and half-long phone conversation between Jimmy and Carey.
Jimmy took my personal information and events from my past and twisted it against me to discourage my attorney from wanting to even represent me while carefully saying all of this, out of concern, by a caring uncle. I think this phone call is evidence of further misconduct by my uncle and it’s the very reason why the probate courts have to protect a “committee” in a commitment hearing from their own family. Carey got sucked into Jimmy’s game even thought he had been forewarned by me. In our follow up phone call, Carey said to me that beyond getting the financial report on the trust and passing this information on to me there wasn’t much else he could do for me. He was, now, concerned that I might blow through my inheritance. Carey confronted me about last arrest several years ago and my plans for Panama, which I owned up to. My attorney had taken sides in my case and it wasn’t with me. Carey was saying in so many words that he was preparing to drop me as a client, which would force me to continue having to deal with my uncle directly or seeking out a third Louisiana attorney to represent me in getting my inheritance. I wasn’t about to let Carey go anywhere.
I was furious at what had just transpired and I let Carey know it, which he got mad at me for getting mad at him rather than simply telling Jimmy that my past was none of his, Carey’s, business and it was outside the scope of what Carey had been hired to do. I called Carey back an hour later and raised hell with him some more. The following day, by email, Carey “fired” me as a client, which was just what my uncle would have wanted. After a few days passed, I made arrangements for my weekly lunch buddy, a 67 year-old stockbroker with a Wall Street firm, who happened to be a native of Shreveport and a former New Orleans resident, whose family was displaced by Hurricane Katrina, to call Carey and speak up on my behalf to attest to my character while trying to smooth things over. My attorney didn’t know me or my uncle, but given their lengthy phone call Carey had bought into my uncle’s “concerns” for me. I figured a character reference by my friend, Mike, would go a long way to restoring my attorney’s confidence in me. They talked by phone and our attorney-client relationship seems to be back on more stable footing. I think!
All communication on my uncle’s part to encourage me to travel to Panama or discuss any other worldly matters on his mind has stopped completely since early December. I think his silence speaks volumes. What were his motivations to encourage me to take this trip while telling my attorney a whole other story – you really don’t want to know my theory? You would never believe it anyway, but money does make people do funny things. Taking control of my inheritance, at the age of 42, is about being able to make sound future plans based on having a clearer picture of my current financial situation so I can set a course to sail wherever I choose to go. In the case of my relationship with Jimmy, it’s about breaking free from his chains and shackles and not having to call him, ever again. The easy thing would have been to let sleeping dogs lie and keep collecting the monthly checks and putting up with his bad behavior. However, if Jimmy were to suddenly die with the succession then the cousins (his two children and me) would have a huge financial and legal mess on our hands. My instincts told me to confront him, force him to act and get to the bottom of this issue for, both, my financial security and long-term peace.
I was so concerned with the recent fallout that occurred between us, in December, that I held off calling him up to send money. By January, I had no choice, but to. I called his office and spoke with his secretary leaving with her my request and a check showed up two days later, in my mailbox. Solving this problem will be a big relief and it’s the last major entanglement I have with anyone in my family, for now. It’s February 6, I still haven’t received a copy of the trust or a list of the assets, but I’m not all that surprised.
This story is an example of a moment of truth. These problems require us to face our deepest fears when we find ourselves powerless and at the mercy of others, to summon the courage to face reality and put together a plan of action that leads to a solution and peace while seeing what others really think of us. I’ve been repeatedly surprised by the generosity of strangers who’ve come to my rescue and at the same time disappointed with my own family and friend’s conduct, but that’s life.
Copyright © 2014. All Rights Reserved. “David and Goliath” by Ted Burnett
My other essays can be viewed at my blog – http://www.tedburnett.com. I can be contacted via email at – email@example.com.